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Above: MP minister Narottam Mishra (left) was disqualified by the Election Commission on charges of paid news. Photo: UNI

The Delhi High Court bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Sunil Gaur on Friday (September 8) heard the case of disqualification of Madhya Pradesh BJP Minister Narottam Mishra by the Election Commission of India (ECI) for allegedly organising paid news to boost his case.

On July 28, the Supreme Court had stayed the ECI’s three-year disqualification order and directed the High Court to resolve the matter within two weeks.

Originally the matter was listed for the bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Navin Chawla, but they recused themselves from hearing the matter.

On Friday, the matter came to the current bench.

The bench observed: “Some elements suggest that the news was published during the election process.”

The counsel for the petitioner said: “…Section 78 of the Representation of People Act is limited only to the issue of furnishing of accounts and failure to furnish those accounts. Secondly, even assuming this case as a paid news case, I would not run foul of Section 77. There is no evidence to say it is fake news and the committee recommended that it could be fake news, rather than that it should be treated as opinion, because I wasn’t on notice from the election commission. According to the rule, notice should be issued on the filing of complaint against the electoral candidate and that candidate duly has the right to appeal against the complaint by Election Commission.”

Continued the MPs counsel: “In December, the elections were held for the MP legislative assembly and I was successful candidate and had disclosed expenditure.”

Petitioner’s Senior Counsel Sundaram submitted: “On May 25, 2012, 14 news items were disclosed and the election officer called the media house whether those were paid news or not. The media house denied the same. It is pertinent to say the election officer enquired after three years from the elections which were in 2008.

“On February 15, 2013 the ECI issued show cause notice for the first time, on the complaint which was filed in 2009. It is submitted that according to Section 77 of the People Representation Act, there is a requirement to file the (expenditure) accounts and the account shall not exceed the prescribed amount. In my account there were around Rs 6,07,980, which was less than the prescribed limit of Rs 10 lakh.

My account was not a false account and therefore it is not the case of corrupt practices.

The bench observed: “…but there can be various other expenditures, other than from the account itself.”

The petitioner said: “The offence is created when the expenditure goes beyond the prescribed limit. Sections 71, 73, 77, 78 of the People Representation Act says that the copy of the transactions of the account should be submitted. The enquiry conducted and found Rs 6 lakh spent and there wasn’t any evidence that any amount was paid for news. They rate the value of news that was paid for as Rs 6 lakh, but nothing gone from my account.

The bench asked: “So your case is someone paid to the journalist for your benefit?”

The respondent said that in fact those were advertorials.

The arguments will continue on September 13.

India Legal Bureau

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